Survey of English Professionals in Korea

Others teaching English at universities here in Korea may have recently (March 07) gotten an email with the same subject line. The accompanying text goes on to explain the survey’s purpose as finding out, “what facts help foreign professors become committed to their organization.”

At first, before reading the actual survey, I was happy to get the request. Finally, someone interested in my opinion on bridging the gaps between Korean and non-Korean faculty members!

Then I read the survey questions.

While I’ve been here long enough that these things should no longer surprise me, I have to admit the one-sidedness of the questions did catch me off guard. The survey takes a decidedly Korean institutional perspective - how can foreigners do more to help schools, rather than seeking to get at the underlying factors that may be preventing people from doing so in the first place.

A sample of the questions (respondents are to agree, strongly agree, disagree, etc.):

  • “I would feel guilty if I left my university now.”
  • “Even if it were to my advantage, I do not feel it would be right to leave my university now.”
  • “I am really concerned about my university's future.”
  • “If my university has problems, I consider them my problems.”
  • “Even though my university requires me to do some extra work which is not part of my job, I will do it willingly and with pleasure.”
  • “I will work hard to make my university successful.”
  • “I think I should sacrifice for my university.”
  • “I do not mind spending my time or money if I can help the students.”

For the survey to truly address its stated goal of discovering “what facts help foreign professors become committed to their organization,” it needs to dig deeper. It needs to go beyond the common, superficial ‘foreigners are just mercenaries out for a quick buck’ attitude, and truly examine the everyday, real-life issues that affect non-Korean faculty members:

  • How long are you allowed to work at your university before being fired?
    (Many schools, including, for example, Korea University and Sungshin Women’s University, have policies mandating that all foreign faculty get kicked out after four or five years of service, regardless of performance.)
  • What percentage of the non-Korean teachers in your department are tenured or tenure-track?
    (In my department, for example, 100% of the Korean teachers are tenured or tenure-track, while only one of eight non-Koreans is tenured - and with no other non-Koreans currently allowed on the tenure track. The university I worked at previously was even more one-sided, with no foreigners being granted tenure, even those with a PhD. I am very curious about the percentages at other schools.)
  • Is there a difference in salary and working hours between the Korean and non-Korean faculty at your school?
    (At many schools, partly due to the lack of tenure, non-Koreans are paid less, and/or made to teach more hours, than the Korean faculty.)
  • Is there a chance for promotion or professional improvement at your school?
    (Even without being granted tenure, many schools have varying levels of pay, teaching requirements, research and publication opportunities, and management positions at affiliated schools or ‘hakwons’, that are available to faculty members. How many of these benefits go to non-Koreans?)
  • Are Korean and non-Korean faculty members given equal access to university facilities and resources?
    (At many schools the Korean professors are given grad students, plus the funds to pay them, to help with administration, research, etc. As another example; during a recent reorganization at my school, the line in the memo announcing our office changes was quite simple, “Professors are given the [single] office assignments below. All foreign teachers will have shared offices, also as shown below.”)
  • Do non-Korean members of the faculty have a voice in department procedures, programs, or decision-making?

I wish the student luck in their research, while regretting the missed opportunity to conduct a survey that might have actually examined some of these important university employment issues from a more balanced perspective.

If there is anyone out there reading this thinking of becoming a university teacher in Korea I wish them luck, and urge them to keep some of the issues raised above in mind - especially the one about mandatory firing after a certain number of years!

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